Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Front Page - BY CAMERON MCCORMICK WITH MAX ADLER

JOR­DAN SPI­ETH hits the ball beau­ti­fully and has a terri c short game, but so do a lot of tour pros. Much has been made of the idea that he pos­sesses rare men­tal strength. The things that make Jor­dan the com­peti­tor he is are count­less, but there is one habit of his you’d do well to adopt.

Now don’t be over­whelmed. The prac­tice of this habit is thank­fully sim­ple, but the think­ing be­hind it comes from a com­plex fron­tier in cog­ni­tive sci­ence. There’s con­tro­versy about how ex­actly we should in­ter­pret the dis­cov­ery of “mir­ror neu­rons,” but how they can help you play bet­ter golf is cer­tain.

Your brain has 100 bil­lion lit­tle things called neu­rons. When­ever you do some­thing, like scrunch your nose or swing a golf club, a bunch of th­ese neu­rons re in rapid suc­ces­sion. Their trail is like a sig­na­ture. The trail of Jor­dan’s neu­rons com­mand­ing his arms and legs to swing a club doesn’t look the same as yours, or Rory’s or Dustin’s, but it’s sim­i­lar. In a mo­tor-neu­ron sense, the pros ba­si­cally have bet­ter pen­man­ship.

When you sim­ply watch some­one do some­thing, like scrunch a nose or swing a golf club, the same se­quence of neu­rons in your brain lights up as if you were do­ing the mo­tion. Well, at least a por­tion of th­ese neu­rons do, usu­ally around 20 per­cent. Th­ese are the mir­ror neu­rons. They write the same mes­sage, just in fainter ink.

The im­pli­ca­tions are as­tound­ing. Mir­ror neu­rons ex­plain why am­putees who su er from phan­tom-limb syn­drome – a sen­sa­tion of pain in a foot they no longer have, for ex­am­ple – ex­pe­ri­ence re­lief when watch­ing some­one else mas­sage a foot. It might also ex­plain why crick­eters have a bet­ter chance of bat­ting well if they’ve just watched, from the pav­il­ion, their team­mates scor­ing runs. On a phys­i­cal level, it sug­gests our minds are con­stantly com­mu­ni­cat­ing and learn­ing from each other. It’s as if we have one gi­ant brain sep­a­rated by our skin.

As Dr Vi­laya­nur Ra­machan­dran, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Brain and Cog­ni­tion at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, said in a TED Talk, “This, of course, is the ba­sis of much of East­ern phi­los­o­phy, that there is no real in­de­pen­dent self aloof from other hu­man be­ings. . . .You are, in fact, con­nected not just via Face­book and the In­ter­net, you’re ac­tu­ally quite lit­er­ally con­nected by your neu­rons.” Ra­machan­dran says the rise of cul­ture is be­cause of the un­com­mon strength of the mir­ror-neu­ron sys­tem, which let us spread new­found knowl­edge and skills quickly across our pop­u­la­tion.

So what does this have to do with golf? For one thing, it ex­plains why most of us tend to play bet­ter when paired with bet­ter golfers, or worse when we play with peo­ple who don’t take the game as se­ri­ously. Jor­dan no­ticed this as a teenager.We talked about it, and from then on he made a con­certed e ort to pay keen at­ten­tion to play­ers who do things well, and to ig­nore those who didn’t.

This might sound like con­ven­tional wis­dom, but the sci­ence that ex­plains it is any­thing but. Here’s how you can put it into prac­tice for your game.

1Make use of the time you watch golf on TV. Iden­tify a player whose tempo res­onates with you. Stand up from the couch and make prac­tice swings try­ing to bor­row that tempo.

2Watch pre-shot rou­tines. If you’re lucky enough to get a game with your club’s cham­pion, ab­sorb the sense of pur­pose that player has be­fore swing­ing. See if you can pin­point the mo­ment con­cen­tra­tion clicks out of ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion and into the shot at hand. Mimic that de­lib­er­ate fo­cus and in­tent.

3Create your own high­light reel. Mir­ror neu­rons and the prin­ci­ple of as­so­ci­a­tion also ap­ply to in­ter­nal thoughts. If you wal­low in self-pity, con­stantly rec­ol­lect­ing the times you’ve messed up, this in­creases your prob­a­bil­ity of fail­ing again. In­stead, vividly re­mem­ber your proud­est golf mo­ments. Main­tain­ing a high­light reel for later re­call is par­tic­u­larly help­ful for those who nd it di cult to merely vi­su­alise shots.

There’s no re­place­ment for the skill ac­quired through sweat eq­uity on the range, but Jor­dan was en­cour­aged to know that watch­ing and imag­in­ing with a pur­pose gave him a help­ing hand along the way. –

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